Monday, May 31, 2010

Water Wars: Interview with Cameron Stracher

Last week I saw an online preview of Sourcebooks' new fall catalog, and when I spotted Water Wars by Cameron Stracher, my first thought was: Must Do Interview! (Or maybe that was my second thought. The first one was probably: Must Get That Book!)

I actually met Cameron Stracher at the Sourcebooks Fire Launch Party in NYC last March, and so I know he’s an extremely amiable author and a fellow vodka martini fan who was just as puzzled as I was that some Manhattan restaurants do not stock olives! Next time Cameron and I meet, I’ll be prepared with a little Tupperware full of cocktail olives, just in case.

1. Water Wars has been described as a “green” dystopia novel, where environmental disaster has wreaked havoc on our world. What can you tell us about this future – and the Great Panic which caused the collapse of society as we know it?

We are already living in this future to some extent. In some countries, at least half the population does not have access to adequate supplies of drinkable water. Though the earth is mostly water (70 percent), less than one percent is drinkable, and much of that is concentrated in a few countries (Canada, for example). There have been wars fought over water, and even in the United States there are intense legal struggles over who will control access to fresh water. Water Wars is simply an extension of our world, the logical progression of what could happen if we don’t change our wasteful ways.

2. Tell us something about your protagonists, Vera and Will, and a little bit about the mysterious Kai.

Will and Vera are brother and sister, 17 and 15, living with their father in subsidized housing, and caring for their mother who is sick and bedridden. Kai is a much wealthier boy that Vera meets one day while waiting for the bus. Part of the mystery of Water Wars is who (and what) Kai really is, and I’m not going to ruin it for you here!

3. Go ahead and scare us. Water scarcity is a real problem. What are the facts?

Atlanta nearly went waterless last summer when the reservoir it used for fresh water nearly disappeared. Across the world, we are using up our supplies of fresh water faster than it can be replenished. Just because water falls from the sky, does not mean the supply is infinite. Most of that water runs into the sea, gets polluted by sewage and heavy metals, and is used by industry. Once an aquifer (an underground reservoir) is diminished beyond a certain point, it cannot be replenished. There will always be water, but there will be less of it to go around, and it will be the poorer countries (and people) who will suffer more. Unless the inequities are addressed, there is a real threat to political stability and peace.

4. Did you scare yourself writing it? Did you have the urge to start hoarding bottled water in your basement?

I knew most of the facts I’ve recounted before I started writing, but I think what struck me as I wrote was the very real possibility of the things I was imagining.

5. People are going to compare your novel to The Hunger Games and Uglies. What commonalities do they have – and where does the similarity end?

I love both those books, and would be flattered if people drew the comparison. Water Wars is similar to those books in that they all paint a frightening picture of a dystopian future. Unlike the Hunger Games and Uglies, though, the world of Water Wars came about mostly through man’s inaction, greed, and ignorance, rather than through directed government policy.

6. What else would you like us to know about your book?

The book does have some serious themes, but I really wrote it as a good “yarn,” to entertain my son, who had just finished reading The Golden Compass. I hope my readers will be as entertained as he was.

7. When can we lay our hands on Water Wars? (Do fellow Sourcebooks Fire authors get early copies?!?)

January, 2011. But if you’re very, very nice, and email me your mailing address, you might get one sooner.

I’m always very, very nice. :)
Thanks, Cameron! Cameron Stracher can be reached by email at

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Liked the Book Better? Don't Blame the Screenwriter!

Today’s blogpost stems from two Twitter Chats I attended recently. In last week’s YAlitchat, writers and educators were discussing how teachers influence what teens read. The subject of movies from YA books came up, causing the usual waterfall of tweets exclaiming, “Oh, my students were so disappointed in the movie!” and “I tell my students the book is always better than the movie!”

Usually, I agree with that. But lately, I get a sinking feeling in my stomach whenever I hear someone say it.

Because I wrote a screenplay. Adapted from my book.

And I have a different perspective now, because I know just how hard it is! Movies are a different media than books – you can’t slap a book into Final Draft and call it a screenplay. Even if you want to use voice-over narration for most of the film – and unless we’re talking about A Christmas Story, that’s probably a bad move – there are some things that just don’t translate from book to screen. And unless you’re talking about a very short book, you probably aren’t going to fit all the events into a two hour movie anyway. Thus – the adaptation.

Later that same week, Scriptchat was discussing Plot vs. Story. Basically, plot is what happens in the movie. Story is why we care – why we connect with characters, root for them, cry for them, and applaud at the end. When it comes to a book adaptation, I think viewers have to accept that the plot of the book may be changed to fit the screen, but the story should remain the same.

When I first read about the real, true Fox sisters, it was their story that drew me in. Two adolescent girls pull off a hoax that catapults them into fame. One of them is conflicted by guilt, but is persuaded into participating for the good of her family. Fame is the reason she meets the love of her life, but it also might be the reason she loses him. In We Hear the Dead, I adapted the real events of Maggie Fox’s life to fit the plotline of a novel. In the screenplay, I adapted them again – to play well in a movie. There are some differences, yes, but I believe both versions are faithful to Maggie’s story. There are even some true events that made it into the screenplay that didn’t fit in the novel. Go figure.

So, the next time you go to the movies to see your favorite book – expect the changes. Think kindly of the screenwriter, and judge the movie not on how closely it adheres to the plot of the book, but on how well it retells the story.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Vlog: The Haverford Dead Book Duo

This past Saturday, I was honored to attend a book event at Children’s Book World in Haverford, PA with Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown, author and illustrator of Picture the Dead. I loved this bookstore! Heather Hebert and all the staff made us feel very welcome. When I arrived (pathologically early, as usual), I was greeted: “Oh! You’re one of the Dead Book authors. I hope you don’t mind that we’ve been calling you that!”

I didn’t mind. I loved it!

I brought my own video crew, who produced a vlog of the event. One of the cameragirls is … uh … not very tall. Thus some of the odd camera angles. Still, I couldn’t have done it without my crew. Love ya, girls!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Turning the Tables on the Teacher

I saw the gleam in their eyes when I explained it to them.

I’d made a few copies of the opening chapters of my WIP, and I was hoping to find some students willing to read them and give feedback.

“You mean, you want us to conference with you?” they asked, using our classroom terminology for writing feedback.

“That’s right.”

I wasn’t sure if I would get any takers, but as it turns out, I hadn’t made enough copies! They scarfed up the chapters and scurried back to their desks – mostly girls, but one or two boys as well. These are fifth grade students – ten or eleven years old – and not exactly my teen target audience. Nevertheless, like any writer, I crave feedback. And like many teachers, I prefer to teach by example.

“Well, it’s g-o-o-o-d,” said the first student to return. She obviously wanted to give the positive first. “But I didn’t understand (deleted for secrecy), and I think you should explain (deleted for secrecy).”

“But I don’t want to explain that,” I said. “That’s part of the mystery.”

“Well, I didn’t get that it was supposed to be a mystery. I just thought you left it out.”

“All right,” I replied. “I’ll work on making that more clear.”

I had revisions for her by the end of the day. I handed her a page with scribbled out words up and down the margin. The paper was covered with arrows and cross-outs that made it clear just how many different ways I’d rewritten the troublesome part. Her eyes got really big as she read my revised paragraph. “You did all that work to change two sentences?” she asked.

“I couldn’t find the perfect way to say it – so that you would understand I was purposefully keeping back information. I wanted the reader to know I was setting up a mystery, but I had to do it in a natural way.” As I explained this, I saw that she understood what I meant, but I also knew she’d never seen anyone work so hard on just two sentences. Most fifth grade students will just insert a sentence that ham-handedly explains the confusing part to the reader without changing any of the original text. This particular student had done that very thing many times, and now she was getting a first-hand look at the right way to do it.

And then I saw her smile as she realized -- if this work comes to publication, she had a hand in crafting this paragraph. She looked up at me with that gleam in her eye again. “I’ll read chapter two tonight and get back to you tomorrow,” she promised.

I can’t wait for my next writing conference.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Family's Story

Last week I introduced you to Donna Nordmark Aviles, who talked about her recent book tour in Kansas presenting her three independently published books. This week, I am posting the second part of Donna’s interview, in which she talks about the books themselves. Donna has published three books for middle grade readers which recount the true history of her family.

Donna, tell us about your 3 books and what inspired you to write them.

My first two books, Fly Little Bird, Fly! and Beyond The Orphan Train together tell the true story of my grandfather Oliver Nordmark’s early life as an orphan train rider from NYC to Kansas in search of a home. I was inspired to tell this story by my father who, in his infinite wisdom, sat my grandfather down to record all the stories of his youth. Those tapes were then given to me as a Christmas present so that I would know and have our family’s history. Once I listened to them, I thought, “Wow, that would make a great book!”

Since my children were still quite young at the time, it took several years before I got to work on the project. My third book, Peanut Butter For Cupcakes: A True Story From the Great Depression, is the story of Oliver raising his own six children during the Great Depression. Since he never had a real parent of his own, life with Oliver is full of fun and adventure one moment only to be marked with poverty and abandonment the next. Yet through it all, it’s the story of how “boys will be boys” even in the hardest of times! This book was inspired by Oliver’s four surviving children who also readily gave me their oral histories and encouraged me to write the story.

You told me that someone in the book business recently commented that your books are not really “historical fiction.” In what genre did he categorize them, and do you think this matters to readers?

Those comments were from informal book reviews I received from Writer’s Digest. The reviewer referred to the stories as non-fiction, but I’ve spoken with a professor at the U of Maine and she stated that they would best be classified as non-fiction narratives. I would agree with that. The Writer’s Digest reviewer suggested taking the current book and weaving additional fictional details into the story to enhance the book (especially Edward’s character.) That is a valid criticism and one that I would act on if this were not my family’s story. My goal was to keep the story true to fact and that is what it is. When students ask me if “that really happened?” with regards to any story in the books, I can confidently reply, “Yes, everything you read in these books is totally true and actually happened.” I will tell you that kids are pretty impressed by that – I suppose they are used to reading fiction and historical fiction and not knowing for sure what really happened and what was made up by the author. It’s a different format for them and one that educators are seeking to work into their curriculum. On a scale of 1-5 with 1 being “poor” and 5 being “excellent”, the books were reviewed by Writer’s Digest on 12 different points and received four “5’s”, six “4’s” and two “3’s”. I’m pretty happy with that!

What was the most difficult part of the books to write? What was your favorite part? Do you have a favorite of the three books?

Without question, the most difficult part of these three books to write was the first two chapters in Peanut Butter For Cupcakes. The book begins with my grandmother, Estella Nordmark, pleading with her husband to be allowed to apply for a job in the coffee shop of the local hotel to earn a bit of money to keep the family going until Oliver can find work. She gets the job but on her second day of work is the victim of an accident which ends up taking her life. It was very emotional to write about. She left a husband and six children all under the age of eleven – the youngest being my father who was just 15 months old. After those two chapters were complete, I had to put the project aside for several months.

My favorite part to write would probably be the entire first book, Fly Little Bird, Fly! because after I completed each chapter, I would give it to my ten-year-old daughter Estella (named for her great-grandmother) to read and then we would discuss it, deciding if kids her age would like it….if a word was too big for a kid her age to understand…things like that. So it was a great mother/daughter project and a secret that we kept from nearly everyone else until the story was complete.

It’s really hard for me to pick a favorite of the three books since, to me, they are all one story and I have been touched personally by all the characters in one way or another. The Orphan Train Movement, as well as the Great Depression, were difficult times to live through in our country’s history and having my own family connected to these two periods in very personal ways makes them very real for me. I hope that the books, when read by others, will help to make these time periods come alive for them as well!

What’s next for you?

Oh, Dianne, I wish I knew! I have a personal commitment to never say “no” when asked to do something to promote my books or the Orphan Train Movement so I continue to add engagements to my calendar, but I also am eager to get to work on a new project. I played with some ideas during my “down time” in Kansas so now I am trying to get to the point where I can schedule daily “writing time” and add more structure to my day. We all know how hard that can be so wish me luck!!

You can find Donna on her blog or learn more about her books and school presentations on her website.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Baby's First Steps

Is it comparable? Yes, I think so.

I’ve watched two of my own children pull themselves to their feet and stagger across the room, grinning and laughing at their own first steps. It’s a heady moment for a parent – a grab-the-camera-I-don’t-want-to-miss-this moment! And it’s immediately followed by terror as the parent realizes: Oh my God. They can get away from me now.

I think that’s what I felt when people started sending me pictures of We Hear the Dead on bookshelves in stores across the country. A squeal: Oh my God! Followed by a drop in the pit of my stomach: Oh. My. God.

That’s my baby on the shelf, pitted against the likes of Catherine Fischer’s Incarceron and Carrie Ryan’s The Dead Tossed Waves! I worry about my book just like any parent. Will anyone notice it? Pick it up? Take it home? C’mon fellow parents out there; don’t you remember when you sent your child off to kindergarten? You worried: Will he make friends? Will the teacher like her? Will he have trouble with bullies picking on him in the playground?

Tonight my own parents called to tell me there’s a display of 60 copies in our local Barnes and Noble, all set up and waiting for my signing event on June 2.


Oh my God. That's a lot of babies toddling off on their own. I hope they'll be okay ...

While I’ve got you here, let me suggest you visit Where In the Blogosphere is Jon? this Wednesday to participate in Heather, Tina, and Jon’s newest contest. My blog was featured two weeks ago, and it was a lot of fun. Prizes are awarded to the participant who is first to locate five blogs and unscramble Jon’s secret phrase – but if you’re not quick on the draw or can’t search the blogosphere during the day, you can also participate in the secondary contest, where prizes are awarded for the most creative comments left on the blog destinations. This week’s theme, in honor of the NE SCBWI, is New England bloggers – a Nor’Easter, in fact!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Gina's Review: When the Worst Happens ...

We owe thanks to Adriane Dutkiewicz for this review, because she’s the one who originally gave Gina her first Worst Case Scenario book, and she’s been hooked ever since. I have to say, they are fairly amusing even for the older-than-9-years-old crowd.

Gina’s Review: Worst Case Scenario Junior Edition Series

My review this time is on three books in the Worst Case Scenario Junior Edition Series. The titles are Survival Handbook Junior Edition, Survival Handbook Extreme, and How to Survive Middle School. The books are about how to survive certain things like How to Avoid a Polar Bear Attack or How to Survive a Nosy Sibling or How to Survive a Mean Teacher. The books give details on how to avoid things like poison ivy and what to do if you’re attacked by a gorilla. They also give possible responses to bullies and how to survive getting a bad grade. The stuff in the book is mostly funny, but it’s not really very useful. For example, the book tells you how to know the difference between an alligator and a crocodile, but it also recommends you don’t get close enough to tell the difference.

I would recommend these books to someone who has a good humor and enjoys traveling or reading about it. My favorite book of the three is Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook Junior Edition. My favorite section in that book is How to Survive Getting a Bad Grade because they suggest that before your parent gets wheeled away to the hospital after seeing your grades, you place their hand on the x so they can sign. I hope you enjoyed this review and read the books.

It’s good to know I’ll be well taken care of in the event that a bad report card lays me low!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Inspiration: First Vlog

Today I was suddenly possessed.

Not by spooks, although you might expect that. I suddenly decided to post my first vlog. Well, not really my first, because I did some guest spots for Helen Ellis last week. But the first one to be posted here.

Of course, I was struck by the idea on a yucky, cold, rainy day, thus enabling me to ask my video editor 6 times: “Do you think this sweatshirt makes me look fat?”

To which my video editor replied: “It’s a sweatshirt, Mom!!!”

Without further ado – My Vlog: Seeking Inspiration

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Success Story

How does a writer judge success?

I’d like to introduce my friend Donna Nordmark Aviles, who just returned from a book tour in Kansas. Donna is the author of three children’s books – all independently published – which retell her family history: Fly, Little Bird, Fly; Beyond the Orphan Train; and Peanut Butter for Cupcakes. Donna’s grandfather was part of the Orphan Train Movement, which shipped city orphans west for foster care. Taken into state custody for one day’s truancy, Oliver Nordmark was wrenched from his family and shipped west -- along with his younger brother -- in what would become a compelling story of perseverance and ingenuity.

Donna’s own venture into the world of self-publishing is no less inspiring – and a fitting tribute to Oliver’s life. Her answers to my interview questions were so interesting that I’ve split them into two posts. First I’ll talk about her successes in the publishing world. Next week, I’ll share how she brought her family’s story to light.

1. Donna, you just completed a 2-week book tour in Kansas! Where did you go, and where did you make presentations?

Oh, the book tour was fabulous! Everyone was so welcoming and excited to have me there. I traveled first to Salina, Kansas in the central part of the state, about an hour north of Wichita. For the first week of the tour I visited schools in Salina – Elementary and Middle – for a total of 19 school visits. Then, in the evenings I had three presentations. The first was at the Eagle Crest Retirement Center, the second at the Salina Public Library, and the third was at the Kansas Wesleyan University where I spoke, not only on my books and the Orphan Train Movement, but also on independent publishing and how to integrate my books and this subject into school curriculum. Students who were majoring in both History and Elementary Ed. were in attendance. The next stop on the book tour was about an hour north of Salina at a town called Concordia, Kansas. This is the home of the National Orphan Train Complex where I gave a talk and book signing followed by a brunch at the local Tea Room. It was incredible – I actually met members of the Gish family. William Gish is the farmer who took in my great uncle, Edward Nordmark, from the Orphan Train in Ionia, KS back in 1908.

Moving on to the second week of the book tour, I visited schools in the surrounding area of Salina including Concordia, Gypsum, Lindsborg, and Solomon. In total, I gave 29 presentations in two weeks to literally thousands of people. It was really quite amazing and frankly, I’m hooked! I am already putting feelers out for a 2010 fall book tour or a spring 2011 tour. (Any takers???) The opportunity to reach that many people with the missing history of the Orphan Trains is just not to be missed!

2. What was your favorite part of the Kansas tour?

There were so many wonderful things associated with the book tour but my favorite part would have to be the kids. They were so excited to have me come to their schools. Most had read at least part of the first book and many had read all of the first two books, so they were eager to hear what I had to say and their insightful questions and comments revealed the extent of their interest and concern for the more than 250,000 children involved in this 75 year “social experiment” which is now recognized as our country’s first foster care system.

3. The American reading public can be judgmental toward self-published authors. Have you encountered this bias? How did you build the kind of credibility necessary to get booked for an all-expense paid 2-week book tour?

I have been very fortunate in that I have only had one instance of negative judgment based on the publishing format of my book. And believe it or not, it was my VERY FIRST talk which I gave at a 55 and over community’s genealogy society meeting. The phrases “vanity book” and “probably full of inaccuracies” were tossed about and I was really taken aback. But…I soldiered on and explained the process and got through it. Since then, I have not had a problem. I don’t advertise that my books are independently published (I prefer that to “self published”) but if asked, I don’t hide it. I equate the process to indie music or film and explain the benefits and difficulties associated with it.

As far as the book tour goes….I think that the books were able to speak for themselves with the Salina Arts & Humanities Commission, who funded the trip. In addition to that, the information on my website is very detailed and probably helped as well. I have a lot of information there about bringing an author to your school along with detailed lesson plans for each of my three books and quotes from teachers and students who have heard my presentation and read my books. The book trailer video, pages on the history of the Orphan Trains & the Great Depression probably helped as well, along with the fact that all three books are recipients of independent book awards. And frankly, I think the bottom line is that a good book is just that – a good book. Once that is recognized, the publishers name has very little to do with it.

4. Now, this next bit just makes authors salivate uncontrollably. Tell us about the film option deal!

The film option was totally unexpected and quite mind blowing considering how it came about. I grew up in the small town of Kennett Square, PA, and in April of 2007, the newspaper in that town ran an article about my first two books. That article was read by Michael Rotko of neighboring Unionville, PA who happens to have a son, Bill Rotko (BREACH, Univ. Pic) – a screenwriter in Los Angeles. He faxed the newspaper article to his son who contacted me two days later stating that he was interested in purchasing a film option on the books. By the end of July we had signed the contract for an 18 mo. period.

Unfortunately the very next thing that happened was the Writers Strike that we all read about followed by A&E picking up Bill Rotko’s series THE BEAST starring Patrick Swayze. All of that left little time to pursue studio funding for a movie based on my books, and sadly the option expired before anything meaningful was accomplished. A disappointment for sure, but at least I know that the story has the potential to be told in a visual media format and the rights are again available for large or small screen as well as stage. I am hopeful that another screenwriter or producer will recognize the universal message in Oliver and Edward’s story, pick up the rights and run with it! In the meantime, I will continue to promote the story, as well as the history of the orphan trains in an effort to reach as many people as possible.

Thank you, Donna! Next week, I will post the second half of this interview, in which Donna talks about the books themselves and how she ended up publishing her family story. In the meantime, I suggest you check out Donna’s blog and her website.

A success story indeed!

Monday, May 10, 2010


Last week, I was tagged by Candace Ganger to participate in the 5 Question Tag Game. I needed to give 5 answers to each of 5 questions, and I actually had some trouble with it. Apparently I come up short in the “5” department, since I was able to supply 4 answers for each question quite readily – but struggled in each case to find a fifth. Gosh, I hope the answers are interesting enough to warrant the effort!

1.Where were you five years ago?

a.Moping over a landmark birthday that had a -0 in it
b.Fetching a pre-schooler from daycare after school every day
c.Learning the ridiculously impossible mandates of the No Child Left Behind program
d.Beginning the manuscript that would become We Hear the Dead
e.Looking forward to a Disney World trip that involved meeting a heck of a lot of princesses

2.Where would you like to be five years from now?

a.Teaching in a well-funded school that isn’t forced to assess success by the single measure of a standardized test
b.Watching my oldest daughter graduate from high school
c.Helping that daughter choose between numerous, really good scholarships
d.Enjoying the DVD release of a highly successful We Hear the Dead movie
e.Overhearing people ask for “the newest Salerni book” in a bookstore

3.What is (was) on your to-do list today?

a.Make a dent in the stack of reading journals needing grading
b.Assess student oral presentations on their favorite authors
c.Take a walk with the dog
d.Write lesson plans for Wednesday morning, so I can take daughters to the dentist
e.Pry daughters off Zelda for dinner, homework, and possibly some fresh air

4.What 5 snacks do you enjoy?

a.Cheese and crackers
b.Semi-sweet chocolate chips
c.My husband’s homemade vanilla ice cream
d.Artichoke hearts right out of the can
e.The olives at the bottom of my martini glass

5.What 5 things would you do if you were a billionaire?

a.Pay for my daughters’ college education
b.Take my husband on tour of Italy
c.Build a sunroom addition on the house with bookshelves and window seats
d.Retire from teaching and write full time
e.Finance the campaigns of politicians committed to funding quality education that is not measured by standardized tests

Phew! That was harder than you think! Now I’m supposed to tag 5 more bloggers and pass the buck. This part makes me a little worried the people I tag might smack me on the arm and say, “What’d you do that for?” But only one of these people can physically reach me to smack me, and she’s too nice to do it. So without any further whining, I tag:

Donna Nordmark Aviles
Al Past (answering for Ana Darcy, of course)
Kristen Lippert-Martin
Claire Dawn
Helen Ellis

Friday, May 7, 2010


This Wednesday I was pleased to be a stop on the tour of the new blogging scavenger hunt: Where In the Blogosphere Is Jon? This new blogging game is described by its creators (Tina Laurel Lee, Heather Kelly, and Jon Arntson) as part cribbage, part Carmen Sandiego, and part New York Times puzzle. Contestants pick up clues at WIBIJ to identify 5 blog sites, look for the comment clue left by Jon, leave a comment of their own, and then unscramble Jon’s phrase to win a prize.

I am absolutely in love with the poem clue written for my book by Heather Kelly:

19th century America was enthralled with the sisters,
Real foxes and tricksters of mrs. and misters.
Cracking knuckles and joints, they pretended the Dead
Were speaking aloud, "We Hear them," they said.

Never caught in the lie until love came to call
The guilt of their life catches up with them all
Or at least with the one who stands to lose most
Is it possible to give up your life for fake ghost?

You can expect to see me plastering this poem all over the place as advertising copy for We Hear the Dead. (Thanks, Heather!) It truly captures the theme of the book, and I really, really had to share it … but I haven’t forgotten that I owe The Misadventures in Candyland a post for being tagged. That’s coming up next.

I’m just still trying to figure out 5 ways to spend a billion dollars without sounding like a feeble-minded Miss America. (“I’d like to buy Peace for the whole wide World!”)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Visiting Kane's Tomb

The next entry in my series of intriguing Pennsylvania graves (caged graves, the ticking tomb, multiple graves for Anthony Wayne) is a salute to Dr. Elisha Kane, the romantic hero of my novel, We Hear the Dead.

Located in Laurel Hill Cemetery, in the middle of Philadelphia, this mausoleum is the resting place of the most beloved adventurer of the mid-19th century, as well as a few of his relatives. I made a pilgrimage to see it when I reached the conclusion of my first draft.

When I say the middle of Philadelphia, I mean right smack in the middle of a tough neighborhood. When my husband and I wandered into the cemetery office, we were greeted by a girl behind a bullet proof window. She nodded knowledgably when we explained that we were there to see Kane’s grave, and circled the location on a map, which she slid through a crack in the glass. “You can’t get to the tomb,” she said. “You’ll have to look through the fence.” We stared at her in disbelief, disappointed and rather confused. “It’s for your own safety,” she explained. “You’ll see.”

We followed the map through the cemetery and eventually reached a tall, chain-link fence. Walking along the length of it, still confused, we eventually spotted the Kane tomb -- and yes, we could see the girl’s point. The dark stone monument is built into the side of a steep hill and partly obscured by grass covering the entire roof. A narrow stone path leads down to the entrance, but one false step and a visitor could tumble headlong down the rocky incline and onto East River Drive. A couple of bounces and – assuming he wasn’t hit by a speeding car – the unlucky visitor might roll off the highway, plummet down another few hundred feet, and plunge into the Schuykill River. It’s a precarious location for a mausoleum to say the least, although it commands a stunning view.

I had come out of curiosity and to pay my respects, but once I’d seen the tomb’s location, I knew I would have to re-write one of the scenes in my book to better match reality. According to historical record, Elisha Kane took Maggie Fox to visit his family mausoleum as part of a romantic carriage ride during their courtship. Supposedly, he pointed out the tomb as his future resting place and informed her that the future Mrs. Kane would rest there as well. He was, of course, broadly hinting she was under consideration for that choice slab of granite!

A romantic date in a graveyard. What a guy! All right, blog readers, here’s a question for you – have you ever had a romantic interlude in a cemetery? Or, alternatively, have you ever been on a date to a place stranger than this?

Astute blog readers might notice that the picture above does not look as if it were taken through a fence. I’m not going to reveal how that was done, but I will mention that if you are serious about keeping people on one side of a fence, you should spring for a padlock instead of just looping a loose chain around the bars of the gate.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Gina's Review: Quest for the Simurgh

I’m pleased to report that my guest reviewer is back today to share an unusual adventure story featuring Persian mythology for the middle grade reader: Quest for the Simurgh by Marva Dasef

Gina’s Review: Quest for the Simurgh

Quest for the Simurgh is a great book about a girl named Faiza who wants to find out why the village magician has disappeared. She thinks he left a clue for her, because she finds his most precious book open and marked with an x with chalk. She thinks he is telling her to seek the magical birds the Simurghs who are not very far away. She and three boys from her class head to the mountains where the Simurghs are said to be found. They meet a strange little man who said he would bring them to the Simurghs. But he is actually a spirit leading them to a battle between good and evil. Faiza meets the good goddess Anahita who tells her about the war the spirit is bringing them to. The goddess persuades Faiza to help her win the war and warns her that the boys will betray her.

I would recommend this book to someone who likes Fantasies and Myths. This book has lots of magical creatures from the Middle East like Simurghs, Gods, Griffins, Flying Horses, and lots more. My favorite part is when Faiza and the boys enter the war and you wonder if the boys are on the good or the bad side.

Thank you, Gina, for taking time out of your busy Zelda-playing schedule to stop by my blog today! You can learn more about the mythology behind Quest for the Simurgh or check out some of Marva Dasef’s other books at her blog/website.